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February 12, 2014

Museum to commemorate 100th anniversary of WWI

SOUTH BEND — It was 100 years ago in 1914 that World War I began with the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

Nation after nation lined up to fight on either the side of the Entente, led by France, or the Central Powers, led by Imperial Germany. These alliances had been building for more than 20 years, with each side nursing old wounds and ready for revenge against past insults, officials from the Center for History said. All anticipated the battles would be over by Christmas, thinking new and improved technology would provide a definitive edge.

Little did they conceive of a war that would last until 1918 and encompass the entire globe, museum officials said. Nor did they anticipate that it would cost the lives of 10 million soldiers, severely impair another 20 million and create 10 million refugees.

In the summer of 1914, the war looked like a chance to prove one’s manhood rather than — as it became — a descent into hell, museum officials said.

This story is told in the new exhibit “World War I: The War to End All Wars,” which will be on view Saturday through Dec. 31 at the Center for History.

The Center for History provides this detail of the exhibit:

In the exhibit, visitors begin their journey back in time with burlap sand bags piled high, just as they would have been in the trenches to give protection from the enemy’s incoming mortar shells. Looking out from a trench is a mannequin dressed in a vintage World War I uniform, gas mask nearby. On the battlefields, the charge to “go over the top” was the most feared command. Communicated by the sound of a shrill whistle, the order meant soldiers were to climb out of their trenches (“go over the top”) and advance into enemy machine gun fire.

Walking through the general’s tent, which was the battlefield’s “war room,” visitors can feel the suspense of approaching battles. World War I forced the world’s militaries to modernize their intelligence services. Sabotage was a common way of striking behind enemy lines. Networks of civilians provided behind-the-lines information, some using sophisticated codes.

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